Wagyu beef is regarded as the tastiest steak you’ll ever eat, but it also has a reputation for costing an arm and a leg. However, the amount you’re paying isn’t just an extra expense: it turns out that manufacturing Wagyu beef involves an abundance of complicated steps and is very different from producing other varieties of meat that you could get at your neighborhood grocery store.

Breeders can showcase their cows’ beauty, breeding, and other attributes in a special competition held in Japan. Winners get the chance to sell their cattle and carcasses for the greatest price to the world’s best eateries and butchers. These high-quality “steaks” are being served at the Japanese Wagyu Olympics. But competing is only a small part of winning: the search for the Shangri-La of steak and the Japanese idea of ikigai is also involved. “[Ikigai] is a deep sense of purpose; the reason for getting up every morning; that which gives one’s life much of its meaning,” said Andrea Fazzari, James Beard award-winning photographer, and author. The Olympics offer an occasion for Wagyu beef farmers to showcase the result of their unrelenting quest for excellence in breeding the best cow. Wagyu production entails a lengthy, labor-intensive procedure that includes government-regulated genetic testing. Additionally, there’s a two-year fattening process where they are fed a blend of fiber and high-energy concentrate until their body mass reaches 50% fat.

Absolute perfection in anything is impossible to achieve. But the Wagyu Olympics encourage farmers to strive in their life’s work. And thanks to the Japanese idea of ikigai, we also benefit from its superb taste and quality.